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Centre Daily Times
The Line Between Home And Away Has Become Blurred
by GISELA GARCIA, Blue Entertainment Editor
December 18, 2003
I HAVEN'T BEEN home to Puerto Rico in a year. My entire family awaits, along with my dog and the ocean and that marvelous heat that instantly relaxes every single pore on your body.
But with my return comes something I've been dreading for a while: How does one define where exactly "home" is, when your surroundings have changed?
When I first came to State College as a freshman, there was no questioning. I longed for the beach and for my bed at home, I longed for the voice of my mom not distorted by phone lines, and the sand and even the hair from my dog, which was always everywhere.
Here, the snow fell freely, and it was confusing to look to the horizons and not see a sliver of blue-green, but instead find myself encased by mountains every which way.
"This is not home. And it won't ever be."
Four years later, the lines are blurred and I'm sort of disconcerted by that. I graduated and, instead of getting on a plane once again, I found a job here and settled. When once it was a daily occurrence to feel thrown by longing for that horrible sun, or the voice of some long disappeared friend, or just the comfort of speaking my own language all the time, now I am sometimes unaware that I was ever anywhere else.
Did I forget where I'm from? Isn't that like forgetting who I am?
I hypothesize ambitiously that as soon as I step out of that plane and get smacked by the heat, my cultural amnesia will melt away and I'll soon forget the fact that I kind of like squirrels and that a Sheetz Meltz has secretly replaced fried plantains as one of my favorite foods. It will all become a memory of a near-miss assimilation.
But what if that's not the case? What if I get home and find that I dread the things I once loved? What if the sound of the frogs that used to lull me to sleep, and that I made my mom hold the phone outside the window for, now becomes as annoying to me as grating metal? What if my brothers have grown up so much that I don't recognize their faces anymore? Will I want to run back to my long-sleeved sweaters and snow shoveling?
"You're losing your Spanish," my dad scolds at me whenever I call him now.
"No, Dad," I'll say huffily, but I know he's right. There's an edge to my vowels, and my "Ss" are a little weak. And sometimes, very rarely but enough to worry me, I'll stop dead in my tracks midsentence. I'll completely forget a word, and not tough words that you'd think are the first ones to go, but the ones you learn while you're in grade school still wearing Osh Kosh B'Gosh. Like "goals."
"And I've been thinking a lot about my future, you know Dad? I've been setting a lot of ... of ..." I trail off. I can feel my father wincing on the other line, his upper lip hardening with slight disapproval.
"Goals," he says sternly.
"Yeah," I say with a sigh. And I try my hardest to continue my conversation, but my mind is on that word. "Goals." How the hell could I forget goals?
Will the rest of my vocabulary deteriorate the same way? Should I start making flash cards? Even more importantly, is the loss of my ability to speak my native language a sign of a bigger loss to come? Like my identity?
I guess everyone who moves at some point in their lives faces a similar dilemma.
Penn Staters come from all parts of the state, country, even world. Do the same implications apply to someone who moves from Pittsburgh to State College?
Though minuscule compared to my trans-oceanic voyage to Puerto Rico, even someone who moves 15 minutes away has to somehow adapt to the new surroundings, and something is always lost in that exchange. Then again, that must only mean that something is gained.
So should it be so unstable to constantly shift where "home" is? Maybe I'll never really know.
I just hope my dog remembers me.